I own a retail produce and Christmas tree business. During the Spring and Summer months we run 3 produce markets and during the holidays we operate 4 tree lots. It’s an extremely demanding, albeit seasonal business.
As a businessman I have to emphasize measurable progress, profits, and metrics. Forward movement is paramount…if not we’ll go out of business. As I tell my employees, “there is always someone who would be happy to take our business and see us disappear.” The constant number crunching and counting of metrics gets old, it can be exhausting. This is how life on earth works, no matter the pursuit, it involves measured progress and tangible results. Everywhere we turn in this life we’re being asked to produce, to accomplish something, to get er’ done. As Aristotle rightly surmised, we are what we do, we do to become. This is life under the sun.
But there’s good news…there is life beyond the sun. Life outside of Plato’s cave where we’re fed more than shadows and penultimate dreams. This is the abundant life that Jesus speaks about (John 10:10).
The Church of Jesus Christ has a very different message than we see and hear anywhere else. The Church is the one place we can go where metrics, spreadsheets, and measured progress are not the gold standard. The Church is (or should be) unique in that it’s the only place where we can go and instead of hearing “do” we can actually hear “done”. Jesus’ last words before his death were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But is that the most notable message of the Church? Is that what people outside the Church know us to be about? Is that the primary thing Christians are hearing from our pulpits? Unfortunately no, we are known for what do, and more often, what we don’t do. The Church has bought the lie that you can measure the progress of the Christian life. That with enough effort, and help from the Holy Spirit, you can bootstrap your way into abundant life. We’ve turned the cross, and Jesus’ call to die to self, into three steps to victorious Christian living. We’ve become experts at turning the letter of the law into a profit and loss sheet that has us living in the black when in fact anything of any profit for the Christian is covered in red, the blood of Christ. The letter kills but the final word from God (Jesus) brings life (2 Cor. 3:6).
How do you measure progress as a Christian? Death and life. This is where Paul sends his readers in Romans 6 when he anticipated the ubiquitous question, “should we go on sinning that grace might abound?” Of course not, you’ve been put to death and given new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-5). Paul doesn’t give the Christian who is flirting with lawlessness a double dose of the law, he doubles down on the gospel. He points them to the only place where real results happen, the finished work of Christ. Where we are not only absolved of all our sin but we are actually given his perfectly righteous life as if it were our own!
When we rightly look at God’s standard, the law, it should reveal how bankrupt we are and cause us to run to Jesus as our only hope. This is the message of the Church. A death and life proclamation that turns the attention away from ourselves and toward a righteousness that exists outside of us. This is so foreign to us because we live in this world that demands our effort, that measures our value by what we produce. The Church must fight against this proclivity when it comes to how we talk about the Christian life. This isn’t to say that the follower of Jesus doesn’t produce fruit or good works, but those results too are gifts from God for the good of our neighbor, not line items we use to measure our success (Eph. 2:10).
When the Church turns toward an emphasis on personal measured progress (no matter how much Bible is used to justify it) rather than the finished work of Christ we end up heaping burdens on an already exhausted world.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)